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Thursday, June 19, 2014

UPDATE: Ethics complaint filed against group seeking to block wet/dry vote

Posted By on Thu, Jun 19, 2014 at 3:46 PM

David Couch, attorney for a group seeking to put an alcohol sales vote on the ballot in Saline, Faulkner and Craighead counties, has filed a complaint with the state Ethics Commission about a group formed to oppose the vote in Faulkner County.

His letter said the They Win, You Lose committee reported on its most recent financial report almost $500 more in expenses than the $5,250 in contributions it had received in the form of a "loan" from political consultant Mary Dillard. He concludes that the committee either received more than was reported in contributions or that it merely was aware that expenses must be reported when incurred, not when paid.

But if the latter is true, Couch adds that people were present at polls in the primary election known as "blockers." They worked to discourage people from signing petitions being circulated by Couch's committee. These blockers, who distributed printed material, reportedly told others they were being paid $250 a day for their work, but no such expenses appeared on the committee report.

I've left a message with Dillard's committee. No response so far.

Here's the Couch letter.
Couch's group is supported, so far, by reported contributions from Walmart and Kum n Go.

The opposition group's backing is unclear, but is widely believed to be based in alcohol merchants in neighboring Conway County, who don't want to see Faulkner County go wet.

UPDATE: I heard Friday from Mary Dillard, who defends her filings and criticizes tactics of the other side. Her full response follows:

 I saw your posting on the ethics complaint filed by Couch. Many of his facts are wrong. I completed the report and the reason I reported a negative balance is that I included credit card charges as they were incurred, which is required in the regulations. The young people we hired to work on primary day were paid on June 4 and that information will be in our July report. They were trained to neither harass nor hassle any voter but to simply distribute literature which is what they did. They got lots of pushback from the canvassers who are a very rough lot including one who threatened to hit one young woman. Our poll workers were either young people from Conway or students there, clean cut and polite and recruited in part for that reason. They weren't paid until June 4 because I didn't get the spreadsheet with their names, addresses and amounts they were to be paid until around June 1.

The complaint from Couch is ironic since he was canvassing for signatures before his ballot committee forms were filed with the Ethics Commission.

I wish some enterprising reporter would look a little more closely at National Ballot Access. Our research indicates that Edee Baggett and her husband have not filed a certificate with the Secretary of State as required of foreign corporations doing business here. They also are out of compliance with similar requirements in their home state of Georgia. They have numerous personal tax liens. We wonder if they paid income tax in Arkansas on the almost half a million dollars they made in 2012 in Arkansas and if they filed 1099s in Arkansas on all their canvassers making more than $600 in the state.

The spokesperson for the Walmart financed effort ($600K so far) has called the canvassers "tough cookies" which is putting it mildly. We also have young people observing canvassers in Conway and one canvasser routinely retrieves discarded cigarette butts from the ground and smokes them. Some canvassers are very aggressive in getting signatures, others have gone into the stores where they are stationed leaving petitions unattended outside. Some are just sad characters.

As the signature gathering gets more difficult, I'm guessing this will get more acrimonious. It's regrettably common in these kinds of situations. I know it's easy to demonize liquor store owners but most are family owned businesses concerned when Walmart decides to get in the liquor business in a big way. They know they will be the losers as have other local retailers when Walmart competes against them.

To a followup question about the lack of disclosure of the financial supporters of her group, Dillard responded:

They didn't put money in until June. Most is from the Conway County Legal Beverage Association. I've worked for them for 27 years handling their charitable giving in Conway County. They have given $2.7 million during that time with all decisions on grants made by a local board. So I see them as good guys just trying to protect their businesses from Walmart in this fight.

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